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Prophecy - Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack Review

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by Chris McEneany Feb 28, 2010

  • Movies review

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    Prophecy - Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack Review

    FSM bring out another Holy Grail for score-collectors with the bravura soundtrack that Leonard Rosenman composed for John Frankenheimer's largely derided eco-tainted monster-flick, Prophecy, back in 1979. Released in a limited run of 3000 copies, this one is sure to sell-out but, given Rosenman's eclectic, but devoted fan-base, I would, ahem, prophesise that there is still some time before that happens.

    As usual, folks, a full review of this score - track-by-track, as is customary - will be very spoiler-heavy.

    Featuring a main monster that looks like a combination of a meatloaf and a turd, with teeth and claws, and some massively hysterical attack sequences and reaction shots of supposedly terrified characters, the film became almost instantly a cult item with those who derive entertainment from pure and utter turkeys. Frankenheimer may have made a name for himself for delivering some indelible cinematic classics, such as Black Sunday (John Williams' score has just become available too), The French Connection II, The Train and Grand Prix, but he proved himself completely incapable of mastering even the rudiments of suspense and terror with this, his first and only “proper” horror film, the psychological/SF dramas of Seconds and The Manchurian Candidate notwithstanding. At the time, it may have seemed like something of a coup to have lifted familiar faces such as Rocky's Talia Shire and Damien: Omen II's Robert Foxworth and placed them into a genre film that was expected to do big business. In the end, of course, the film did nothing for their careers and they both returned to the things that served them well in the past - repeated turns as Adrien Balboa for Shire and more TV work for curly-mopped Foxworth, most notably Falcon Crest. The film did have one bankable star who wouldn't suffer quite so much, in Armand Assante, who plays Native American activist John Hawks. Assante would never be a huge star, but for a time he would be a consistent element in firm dramatic roles in films such as I, The Jury, Q & A and The Mambo Kings (and, erm, Judge Dredd). Even The Thing's Richard (Dr. Copper) Dysart finds his first monstrous encounters here, but Prophecy is really only remembered for two things - its laughable excesses and its profoundly energetic score. Written by The Omen's journalist-cum-screenwriter, David Seltzer, the film's environmental warning about messing with nature and the ongoing persecution of Native Americans was also very much in vogue at the time. Over the same period, Hollywood would also release the similarly themed Nightwing (see CD review) and, best of the bunch, by far, the brilliant Wolfen (see DVD review). Prophecy, although its heart was possibly in the right place, just seemed to use these emotive themes as devices rather than essential core ingredients to weave an important moral.

    Illegal and unethical use of a mercury fungicide in a paper-mill sees the dangerous substance being leaked in the water-supply of the beautiful Maine countryside, which results in birth defects and deformities in the wildlife and the local Native American population. But, quicker than you can say Them!, something huge and hungry begins chomping down on those foolish enough to prowl around the woods. The mystical Indian shaman M'Rai, played by George Clutesi (who had a very similar role in Nightwing), claims that it is the great spirit of the forest, “Katahdin” - a creature formed of out the bodies of many animals - that is on the rampage. As more deaths ensue and more evidence of Man's careless treatment of the environment is discovered, the film descends from its once lofty intellectual high-ground to absolute bargain-basement mayhem.

    One of the true experimentalists, Leonard Rosenman carried a very distinctive voice and truly unorthodox musical style. Characteristic of his scores were imposing tone pyramids, staccato, jabbing blasts of lung-piercing brass, wild atonal barrages and trilling strings - usually all woven together into one jangling, savage frenzy of orchestral might. Famous for his classic compositions for original scores for East of Eden, Ralph Bakshi's animated The Lord Of The Rings, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes and the final simian escapade in the series, Battle for The Planet Of The Apes, as well the Oscar-winning double-whammy of adaptations of Barry Lyndon and Bound For Glory, his brazen, unusual dialect was much admired by his peers and would prove to be highly influential, although difficult to emulate. Whilst his music for Prophecy has always been justifiably regarded and much sought-after, my personal favourites out of his inspiring oeuvre, have tended to be his supernatural thriller scores for Race With The Devil and the similarly road-orientated The Car (see my reviews for the DVDs of both movies) - but we still await their official arrivals on soundtrack CD. Bringing in much of what made those scores so exciting and addictive, Prophecy plays like the culmination of many of his trademarks into one great career overture, yet retains a power and a remorselessness all of its own. A grandly symphonic delight, this is a gut-twisting, senses-reeling delight that must have taken his orchestra to the brink of sweat-caked exhaustion. But this score has another, and altogether prescient trick up its sleeve - the wonderful use of Craig Huxley's famous Blaster Beam effect, which would also see action that year in both Meteor and, most cherished of all, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Yet, if anything, it is Prophecy that makes the best and most thrilling use of this unique electronic sound, craftily utilising its now familiar SF-sound to capture the mutated primal ferocity of the bear-thing behind all the killings and disappearances.

    Rosenman fashioned what was, for him, a typical score for the eco/socio-political-flavoured monster-mash of Seltzer's screenplay. In the very same year he unleashed what many consider to be his masterpiece, with the score for the ill-fated, and unfinished first foray into Middle Earth with Bakshi's stylish The Lord Of The Rings, but what the sheer visceral velocity of his nerve-shredding compositions for Frankenheimer's mutant-opus lack in thematic colour and hummable motifs, they more than make up for in rolling momentum, atmospheric tension and rampant, all-out aggression. With the very first track, you know that you are in the hands of a Rosenman who is firing on all cylinders and literally grabbing the score, and the film it supports, with both hands and shaking them to within an inch of their lives. With an immediately thunderous approach, brass blurts furiously at us with syncopated adrenaline, percussion shudders and metallic elements glisten. Trumpets and trombones compete with simply electrifying results, their chaotic exchange pummelling us into submission. You couldn't ask for a more emphatic and super-charged introduction. In the film, the dogs of a search and rescue team pick up a scent as they attempt to track down some missing lumberjacks. But something supremely nasty and hideously grotesque is waiting for them and the film kicks off to a grisly start. Rosenman takes no prisoners either with his dynamic and rage-filled writing.

    Whilst the second track, Over The Edge, continues with harsh strings and blood-sapping brass for its brief 32-second duration, the third, Flight To Maine, alters the tone and brings in a beautiful, lilting pastoral, as Foxworth's Environmental Protection agent, Rob and his pregnant wife, Maggie (Shire), fly into the vast forests of Maine to help with the investigations and conduct a survey of the habitat. Strings soften and heraldic brass slides away into a more gentle progression that shimmers in awe of the lush landscape sweeping beneath their flight. Violins keen and soar and the effect is one of a spacious tranquility, although this harmonious interlude still exudes something of a sly sense of menace. Yes, it is peaceful, but something dark still lies beneath it all, something that sounds vaguely ominous. The scenic splendour is extended into the next track, Road Block, as Richard Dysart's nefarious operation-manager at the Pitney Lumber Company drives the two visitors through the area, expounding his dubious love for the province and lack of involvement with the weird goings-on that have plagued the region. But Rosenman shifts back into danger-mode when Armand Assante's passionate Indian activist makes trouble and a road-block tactic leads to a skirmish between an axe and a chainsaw. Heavy piano chords echo in the background as tension mounts, then sliding wedges of brass and strings take precedence. As the violence increases, pugilistic brass statements abound, pizzicato strings reverberate and fierce rhythms drive against one another. That climbing tonal pyramid rises above the fracas, until glacial strings crystallize over the top, smoothing down the agitation. The track then softens to allow a reflective moment of soothing warmth to flood the second cue that makes up the piece, Water Journey. A harp briefly registers in this quietening-down phase. Rosenman's gift for alternating between anger and fury and then calm is wonderful in its beguilingly smooth transition. He will make a pattern of this throughout the score ... although it is the more exciting anger motifs that will win out.

    Shivering strings denote something nasty afoot in the first of three cues for Track 6. Squirrelly woodwinds shimmy-up the scale and then brass clusters notch up the tension in that terrific trademark flurry of stabbing progression that also is so characteristic of the composer. Percussion meets tremolo strings as a rabid raccoon becomes the scariest thing that we've seen so far, attacking the heroic couple and revealing the dangerous volatility of the mercury-ridden area. The final cue of the track brings back an element of Rosenman's slight, but effective nature theme as the couple, in tow with Hawks and his wife, who sense kindred spirits in the strangers, to the sacred camp of her grandfather, M'rai.

    With a great sense of unease and dark mystery, Track 7, Secret Pond, marks a spooky transition. To the terrific foreboding voices of bassoon and bass clarinet, we witness the bizarre log-filled pond that seems to have been something of a catalyst for the weird transformations that the fauna has been undergoing. A harp glistens, high strings prickle the hair on the back of the neck. Xylophone and slow, moaning brass undulate. This is good, creepy stuff that finally rises to a vivid brass flourish as the source responsible for this is determined and the heroes plan to state their case and make the situation public. The following two-part track begins with tense underscore for low strings and woodwinds, but swiftly segues into a clamorous and violent, though brief flurry as a family of campers sleeping in the woods are awoken by the great bear-thing and slain. In what must surely be one of the most ludicrous death scenes ever filmed, one victim, zippered-up in a bright yellow sleeping bag actually attempts to hop - yes, that's right, hop - to safety. Until, that is, a massive, soggy mutant-paw swats this “stuffed budgie” so hard that he literally explodes in a shower of feathers against a wall of rock. Out first sighting of the great Katahdin is, therefore, a sheer embarrassment that the film will only go on to compound with relentless vigour. Rosenman, however, will strive to foster fear and blood-sapping dread for the creature (actually created by the usually very reliable Tom Burman) with dogged resilience - and the film that plays in your mind as you listen to this score is certainly a much more terrifying one than that which Frankenheimer came up with.

    More grim tidings are conveyed with effective tension and foreboding in Mary's Bend, track 9. Rob discovers the claw marks of the beast, high up on the trunk of a tree. Angular patterns from the strings rise and fall in an apprehensive layering. Timpani and strings create an unusual and uncomfortable mood of pervasive dread, the cello see-sawing enough to deliver a metallic-like downward scythe. The aura is frosty and suspense-laden. You can feel Rosenman's diverse instrumentation and raucous nature simmering just below the glacial surface, threatening to explode with the violence that we know he is capable of. Low-end piano and dissonant strings conclude the track with one of those trademark tone pyramids. Anguished strings and brass gasp and holler at the commencement of the next track, echoing the cries of Maggie as she finds two malformed bear cubs caught in a trap. This wild and upsetting motif, that is augmented with almost psychotic metallic percussion and is somewhat recalled in passages of Ennio Morricone's fabulous score for the now-virtually lost Peter Benchley-adapted maritime thriller, The Island, is the music of violence and of nightmare, unapologetically harsh and frenzied, yet so skillfully written. The clarinet and then brass form a bridge to the second cue that then folds down upon itself like an atonal lid, quelling the distress of the music, but not allaying any of the fears that it has instilled.

    Monster Medicine comes next. Beginning with more of those exquisite high strings that seem to arc overhead with icy conviction, the cue then softens with the addition of solo woodwind that brings along a tentative warmth that then carries over into the rest of the track. Although there is still a lurking undercurrent of danger, the music shears away much of its earlier malevolence to provide a delicate lull before the coming storm. Maggie's attachment to the one surviving cub that they rescued leads to her confession to Rob that she is carrying his baby, something that is now troubling her greatly due to the level of contamination that they seemed to be surrounded by. Thus, Rosenman treats this interlude as wistful and bittersweet, despite allowing little, softened phrases of Katahdin's theme to gently penetrate the moment. But all this poignancy is massively disrupted when the big mutant momma-bear shows up to wreak havoc amongst the party - now joined by the shaman, Dysart's suddenly guilt-ridden bureaucrat and the local Sheriff - and try to claim back its baby. Rosenman now unleashes what will become a veritable tour de force that will barely pause for breath until the end of the score. Fierce tonal pyramids for brass climb to a pinnacle that is topped with Huxley's Blaster Beam, now denoting the innate, gnarly terror of the beast, which shimmers thickly out across the music, adding a crazy, soul-strangling anger to the piece. Low brass reacts to the ponderous steps that the beast takes as it advances on the humans, percussion and shrieking strings capture its cacophonous roaring and the swipes of its razor-tipped paws. Woodwinds provide an unearthly hooting and that Blaster Beam delivers variances of its forest-levelling cadence. This is wonderful stuff, folks, that, if played loud enough, will totally disturb anyone who isn't a fan or doesn't know anything about film-scores and their orchestration. The broken, agitated style of Rosenman isn't for everyone, however, but this remains classically devastating and powerfully intuitive.

    After the piercing strings, guttural brass accents and wailing woodwinds that play over a shock decapitation, the beast retreats back into the woods with the carcass of its dead cub to ponderous, lurching low-register stomps. The surviving humans, huddled in a tunnel, with the remaining cub, take stock of their situation as Rosenman's music drops the fury and slides out to an uneasy fade. A nice section follows in Track 14, Trip To The Tower, in which the group separate and Dysart's character, eager to make amends, attempts to make it to the radio shack to call for help. Brass and string developments give the accent to ethnic percussion effects and occasional low bursts of staccato. Tension gains precedence with edgy violins as the vulnerability of the lone mill manager is made apparent. The subtle intonations of the monster's theme that bubbled nervously in the midst of this travelogue come to fore in the next track, Isley's End, as Katahdin suddenly reappears and pursues - in that dreadfully ungainly and unconvincing manner that only a man in a daft rubber suit can convey - him towards a security fence that the pesky little man will not be able to surmount in time. Electronica busies itself, along with little interjections of ethnic percussion, then doomed chords from the piano and terrified squeals from high strings combine to form a bed of disarray for the Blaster Beam to incinerate its way across and jut forcibly back into the score. Like musical napalm, the monster's unforgiving motif dominates the final stretch of the track as poetic justice is meted-out.

    The longest section of the score comes next in the six-and-a-half-minute, appropriately titled Monster Mash. After suddenly appearing and toppling the jeep carrying Rob and Maggie, and Hawks and his wife, Ramona (Victoria Racimo), and cascading them out onto the deck, Katahdin then pursues them down to the lake, after first making mincemeat out of an already-injured helicopter pilot. After an opening stretch of false security, all the fury of Rosenman's orchestra combine to illustrate the mercury-addled barbarity of the beast - tonal pyramids accelerate the imposing dread of the bloody scenario, chaotic clusters for brass and strings overlap with agitated squalls of violence, low-register pulses provide ominous energy and jolting interruptions from the Blaster Beam bludgeon their way into the maelstrom. Such depth from the stabbing brass actually conspires to make you recoil. The track rises to mini-crescendos as another death occurs, the battered and bruised survivors swimming to the far side of the lake in the hope of reaching the cabin and the tension never slipping for a second. For Track 17, Blub Blub, Rosenman's monster theme blasts from out of a wall of shivering brass and strings as Katahdin wades into the lake, itself, to go after them. Working brilliantly after this cue in what has now become a virtually unstoppable barrage of linked tracks playing almost as one continuous passage, is Cabin Fever, which grinds the monster's theme with some dazzling percussive electronics and juddering string flurries that culminates with rising bleats from the brass section beneath a canopy of tense strings.

    The double-hit of Track 19 - Instant Skylight and Bye, Bye Beast - bring more Beam-blasting, mercilessly deep brass chords and cloud-piercing strings as the monster rips the roof of the cabin - the last place to hide - and then crashes through the walls, levelling the place and making a final kill before Rob desperately despatches it with a variety of shotgun-blasts and an Indian arrow. Rosenman keeps the high tension and the voracious nature of the music, elaborating it with electronic echoes and rumbling brass expletives, bringing the chaos of his score to a thoroughly exhilarating climax of man and mutant. Even his End Credits, that appear in Track 20, refuses to caters for even the most minimal of harmonies. In the film, audiences are bestowed a very brief delivery of some of that earlier pastoral material, that has now been virtually forgotten under such a deluge of aggression, of course, though this was simply tracked-in from elsewhere in the score. This final cue, however, essaying the flight back home away from all this rubbery terror of Rob and Maggie, together with their rather crassly depicted fears of future deformities for their unborn child, is actually punctuated by a famously eye-rolling last-minute twist that ushers-in a mini-overture of Rosenman's clamorous main monster theme. This then lurches and blunders its primordial way - with some great dissonant sustains, atonal strings and even a minor harp-flourish - until the fade-out of the track, and the score with a grand, climactic tone pyramid of brass, shimmering, distraught strings and implacable electronica.

    As Lucas Kendall, of FSM, has said, the original recording was “hot” and this excellent production boasts some quite incredible volume and power. But for such a loud album, there is a great degree of separation, instrumental clarity and overall dynamics and earlier bootlegs are very emphatically blown out of the water by this release. One-inch 8-track first generation tapes have been used to secure this resounding 2-track stereo mix (taken from the original mix's channels 4 and 5) and the results are violent enough to worry the neighbours, so watch out when you crank this up ... as you know you are going to, anyway! The release comes with a superlative 16-page illustrated booklet of extensive notes and detailed track-by-track analysis from Scott Bettencourt and Alexander Kaplan and, capping all this off, is the sublime original poster art.

    You know, listening to this score and reading the events of the film alongside Rosenman's excellent music really makes me want to watch it again ... but there really can't be any disputing the fact that Frankenheimer's monster movie is a dud in many, many ways. No-one loves trashy creature-features more than me, but the problem with this particular example of the genre is that it has such lofty pretensions and takes itself, sadly, far too seriously - which only compounds the sheer stupidity of it all even more. Thus, along with those awful monster effects, Prophecy - which I truly wish I could like more than I do - becomes a tragic waste of 100 minutes, except, of course, for the opportunity it holds for us to listen to how Rosenman tried his damnedest to make something exciting out of the overall mess.

    Full Track Listing

    1. The Search Party 1:29

    2. Over the Edge 0:32

    3. Flight to Maine 1:51

    4. Road Block 2:05

    5. Forest Fight / Water Journey 3:46

    6. Dead Duck / Rabid Raccoon / M'Rai's Camp 1:43

    7. Secret Pond 3:21

    8. Mercury / Attack on the Family 1:25

    9. Mary's Bend 2:30

    10. The Babies / Back to Camp 1:33

    11. Monster Medicine 2:10

    12. The Monster Attack 3:12

    13. Clobbered Cop :47

    14. Trip to the Tower 2:04

    15. Isley's End 1:06

    16. Monster Mash 6:32

    17. Blub Blub 1:01

    18. Cabin Fever 1:05

    19. Instant Skylight / Bye, Bye Beast 2:06

    20. End Credits 2:19


    Verdict

    It is always great to get another Leonard Rosenman score and his work for Prophecy showcases his aggressive atonal talents at their very best. An elegant pastoral puts in an appearance, too, but this is pulse-pounding and dynamic monster music that barely lets up even for a second. Audacious use of Craig Huxley's Blaster Beam is another bonus - really providing that bear-thing with a memorable motif of deep-set, irascible violence. And, in keeping with this primal blitzkrieg, the quality of the recording is absolutely brutal in its delivery, yet, thankfully, the clarity on offer is fantastic. Rosenman was a true original, and the arrival of this fantastic score will hopefully open up the possibilities for The Car and Race With The Devil to follow suit.

    The lavish booklet seals the deal with great historical analysis and some equally great, but hysterical images of the monster - which, it has to be said, looks like nothing more threatening than a fresh, glistening turd sweating in the midday sun. But you just know that I'll be first in line to review the movie if it ever makes the leap to Blu-ray, don't you?

    FSM's CD release for Prophecy, needless to say, comes very highly recommended indeed. A 9 out of 10 from me, folks. Awesome.


    The Rundown

    Movie

    9

    Overall

    9

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